Unconventional Look at Fundraising


Welcome to my Donor Development Blog. You are welcome to post comments on the issues discussed in the blog or write to me at steinerpgh@gmail.com

Donor Development – Why Blog?

I am sure a commitment to blog on issues relating to fundraising with the focus on donor development already had you asking WHY at least as many times as the number of blogs. Why is he (that is me) doing this? And while I am not going to volunteer the thoughts which I think have entertained your (or my) mind (sorry…) this same question has certainly crossed my mind.

WHY dedicate such an effort to writing about donor development? And maybe this blog today, is not only about WHY but also an attempt to explain for the first time the basic difference, at least conceptually – between fundraising and donor development so that it becomes clear. Is this blog about fundraising or about donor development and if the latter, what is this term altogether?

But first things first, let’s go back to why blog and try to give an answer which hopefully keeps you reading and me writing. For the past 16 years, I have worked for two of the most amazing Jewish community development organizations one can aspire to work for; during the 1990’s for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, stationed in Moscow, Russia and from 1999 till 2011 for one of the leading federations in North America -the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. I have spent much of my time working with major donors, helping them fulfill their philanthropic endeavors in Russia, Israel and in the US, side by side, seeing them through as they realize their philanthropic passion while federation serves as facilitator for these donors as their dreams come to fruition.

A moment of candor allows me to reveal that one of the reasons for writing this blog may have to do with spending more time with donors than with fellow professionals. This is something that may have given me endless insight into working with major donors but has left me eager and thirsty for the dialogue this blog may give me with you. That sharing my knowledge of working with major donors can enable such dialogue. While working closely with Israeli, Russian and American donors, a few things have been on my mind, and maybe today’s blog is an opportunity to share some of these questions.

How does philanthropy look from the perspective of the wealthy person/donor? I know how it looks from our side – the side of the organizations, the fundraisers – but in spending so much time with donors, what is it that they see and can they also tell us how to best work with them?

Every textbook on fundraising has a well-known part which guides the fundraisers to know everything possible about the “ask”…how to ask, when to ask, how much to ask for etc. I wanted to know if receiving money from major donors can only be done through asking. Were there other ways? And in my pursuit I have discovered alternative and exciting ways. While I participate in and enjoy solicitations (most of the times enjoy – not always) on behalf of federation, most of the money I have raised I did not have to ask for or solicit. I know this requires explanation, which I plan to in a separate blog. I am almost uncomfortable to add that I am referring to seven-figure donors and their philanthropic endeavors, but this may already be obvious and I don’t want to risk coming across as a braggart or blunt.

Another question that has interested me throughout the work I have done with donors had to do with the stages donors go through in their philanthropic journey, not only helping non-donors become donors, but mostly the challenge and rarity to watch from close proximity the transformation when a donor becomes a philanthropist. One of the most amazing things I have ever witnessed in my line of work and have been privileged to be part of more than a few times. When money is not the issue, when the joy of changing things in our world is the focus, and making our world or community a better place becomes the center of the phenomenal person I am engaged with, it is then that I know that I don’t have to be a religious person or theologically educated to realize that when I look into the eyes of such people I can see a glimpse of God. I assume that some of you reading this blog know what I am insinuating.

Through the work I have been doing with donors I have learned more than I could have ever imagined to acquire in any academics of fundraising. I have been privileged to work with amazing donors but all of this in my mind would have not been possible if it were not for the professionals who enabled me to pursue this area of donor development.

I could easily name them both in JDC and here in the Pittsburgh Federation but I know they would rather me not do that and yet, so much of what I have learned and acquired is due to their enabling and the new areas they encouraged me to chart. Maybe the best compliment I can give those who allowed me to achieve is that in over 15 years of things I have asked to “try” in the work I have pursued, I cannot even find a handful of examples that were turned down. It seems to me that in the realm of philanthropy, how we do a better job with our donors and on their behalf may be the most important virtue of them all. Trying and trying and trying, and constantly discovering how we can expand our own capacities.

In a nutshell, I feel committed to share the knowledge and expertise that I was enabled with. If more and more professionals in our field can touch more donors and engage them in philanthropy, not only will more campaign dollars be raised but we will work with many more happy people taking part in the betterment of the community.

Why Blog – going back to the question about the format. Because a blog is interactive, and a blog enables you to respond, ask questions and make comments. Donor development is neither a straightforward nor an easy thing to do or share, or to teach or train – you get the point I am sure. And I am interested in a way to contribute to your philanthropic thinking in some way.

So this is WHY, and I hope it makes some sense. And if it does, I hope these blogs will play a role in the way you think about philanthropy, the joy of it and the endless potential, your ability to not only raise money, more money than you have ever imagined, but in the process, making people truly happy and committed to the philanthropic journey.

I absolutely believe your dedicated work can do it. Continue to read and if you want, comment or ask questions and I in return will do my best to share in each blog every couple of weeks, as I have been doing.


Michael Steiner

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